Search This Blog

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Recycled Veal Bolognese

There are variations on 'Bolognese' sauce, but mostly it's a tomato-based meat sauce with onion, carrot and butter.  To make it authentically, and correctly, requires a fair bit of effort, and includes several stages.  

It is worth it.

This is probably my favourite pasta sauce.

I love making it, and am pretty good at it.  In fact, many of the techniques used in making this sauce have become staple methodologies in most of my sauces in general.  If you've followed me regularly, you'll note that I rely heavily on sweating (a precursor to almost every one of my sauces), and am also a big fan of sautéing and - when meat is involved - braising.

All of these are necessary when making a true Bolognese from scratch.

Today, however, I'm not making one from scratch.  ;)

I think a good cook is also a creative and inventive one, and I certainly have that down if I do say so myself.
So take a look at this, rather ingenious, quick and easy way of making what is essentially a Veal Bolognese sauce.

So, you'll remember that I recently made what I called a "Kitchen Sink Soup".  In fact I still had a fair bit of that in the fridge.  You'll also recall that that was mostly a beef broth with carrots and onion, some garlic, tomato and shallot.

In fact, here's a photo from that day:

Doesn't that sound like it would be a great base for a pasta sauce?

With a little tweaking, anyway...

So, firstly, I puréed the leftover soup with my trusty immersion blender.

Not too appetizing at this point.  Just wait.

For now, we're going to just dump that smooth purée into the slow cooker.

This may not seem like much, but there is an insane concentration of flavour in there.  Yup.  Insane.

Next, I took another bunch of tomatoes, chopped em up, puréed them as well, and then cooked them down to concentrate them (and remove unwanted water).

Then I added some more garlic.  Because I love garlic.

After about 10 or 15 minutes, the tomatoes are nicely red and concentrated.

Doesn't that look amazing?

I could just drink that.

Anyway, that gets thrown in the slow cooker as well.  And I'm going to add some bay leaves.

Now here's the coup de grâce.  We were out for supper the other night at a delightful restaurant by the name of 7Numbers.  Truly amazing food, and we ordered much of it.  Even though there were three of us and we all had hefty appetites, we still ended up bringing home some leftovers.

For the wife and I, that was a couple of veal meatballs.  Polpette D'Rosa is what they were called.  And holy shit they were good.

The picture really doesn't do them any justice at all.  These babies were heavenly.

Anyway... you can see where this is going, can't you?

Although they did NOT need any more tender loving to be delicious, I had the time, and I wanted to infuse the sauce with as much goodness as possible, I carefully put these in the slow cooker with the sauce, and set them to braising for the afternoon.

There was just enough sauce to barely cover the meatballs, and after about 4 hours, the sauce was perfect.

Served over some fresh rigatoni noodles, this was so freaking good.  Too good.  Almost.  Like I had dreams about it good.

So, while this was not as chunky as an authentic Bolognese, I feel justified still referring to this sauce as such, because all the elements were still there.  Actually, the flavours were even more intense and rich than normal.  The beef soup lent an amazing depth and richness to the sauce, and the meatballs were just delectable.

This was probably one of the most delicious things I have ever created.  I'm truly sorry for the world that it was completely removed from existence by me and the wife, in a matter of a few short minutes.  I feel like it should have had a more illustrious life.

Join me in a brief moment of quiet reflection and contemplation, for this; my quick and easy Veal Bolognese of a cold Tuesday night in February.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Kitchen Sink Soup

As the name would suggest, or at least vaguely hint at?  (I think the proper usage is supposed to be something like 'everything but the kitchen sink' to indicate massive and indiscriminate quantities of a variety of things...) this is a soup that I made with pretty much everything I had on hand.  So... NOT a soup that I made in my kitchen sink.  So maybe this is NOT 'as the name would suggest' at all.

What I "had on hand" was mostly a schwack of root vegetables that were starting to get a little too dry and old for 'fresh' uses.  When this happens in large quantities, I automatically turn to things like soups and stews.

I always envisioned our proverbial 'ancestors of old' using really gnarly and (positively disgusting by our well-fed standards today) misfit vegetables in their cooking.  I mean, I think that's how things like soups and stews kind of rose to such celebrity back then... you could throw in the shittiest cut of the ass-end of a strange unidentifiable animal your grandpappy ran over with his wagon, and then pad it with all the dusty crap that is starting to make your storeroom smell a little funky.  Boil it all up in a giant cauldron for hours or days, not only to soften and tenderize all those gross things, but ostensibly to also kill anything that might have been living (thriving probably) on this sorry jetsam.  Hot and filling, however, this sludge was probably received enthusiastically to our starving and poorly-put-upon ancestors.


Nowadays, stews and soups are holdovers sure, but can be fresh and tasty and even healthy and good for you.  And when I say that my veggies were getting a little too dry and old for 'fresh' uses, I'm sure that they would have passed as 'excellent' quality a hundred years ago.  :)  Oh how they would think we are spoiled.

Now, something which has always been interesting to me (and which, if I'm to be honest, has always kind of confounded me) is the fact that many vegetable soups are in fact made with beef stock.  Isn't that messed up?

When I make vegetable soups I use vegetable stock.  It just seems like a no-brainer to me.  But whatever.

This soup, though, is not a vegetable soup.  ;)

This is a beef soup with vegetables.  Basically, if you added beef (and some thickener) it would be beef stew.

So, don't get all up in my bidness over that.  I am right there with you on non-vegan vegetable soup.


Anyway, here are a couple of shots of everything I put in there:

As you can see, we've got a lot of onion and green onion, a shallot, a whole bunch of garlic, some tomatoes and some carrots.

This is not meant to be suggestive in any way; this was simply all I had that needed getting rid of.  My own particular 'sorry jetsam'.  If I had had more root vegetables, or perhaps some celery, those would be in there as well.

So the first (and definitely most time consuming) thing to do is to prep all these veggies.  Because I was going to purée pretty much everything in the blender, I could get away with only loosely chopping most of them, which thankfully does save on some time.

Except for the carrots and the green of the scallions.  Those are getting put aside for later.

First thing I puréed was the tomatoes.

 I coarsely strained out the seeds and some of the pulp, but then poured the remainder into my slow cooker.

The root veggies were a little more involved.  Whenever I cook with onions I like to make sure that they've been softened.  I know that in a soup like this where it is going to be cooking slowly all afternoon that I really do NOT need to worry about that.  But, it's a habit.  Plus it helps to concentrate all of these flavours together.  So rather than one really sharp onion flavour here or there in a soup, doing this will diffuse these flavours evenly throughout the entire dish.  I'm a big fan of diffusion.  I find it pleasing.  :)

So, sauté time.

We're using butter this time children.

Not a lot, just enough to sauté all the root veggies and vampirically absorb all of their flavour.  Just now I briefly wondered about adding the word 'vampirically' to my online dictionary.  In the end I decided not to. Perhaps the next time I use it will be vampirically's day.

The onions go in first, because they take the longest.

Then the shallots and much of the scallions.

Finally the garlic, which is chopped very loosely, because I don't want the nutty flavour of garlic that's been roasted too long.

Anyway, that simmers on medium-low for about 5-10 minutes.

Only to be removed from heat once the onions become translucent.  And a little golden on the exposed bits.

JUST like this excellent photo:


This could be the base for almost anything delicious.

You could put a boot in there and it would taste awesome.  Or grandpappy's unidentifiable roadkill, which is probably the point of all this.  :)

Anyway, that gets puréed.   A lot.

Times like this I yearn for a better blender.  Someday soon I will be getting a Vitamix I think.  Until then... pulse... pulse...pulse...pulse...pulse...


And then into the slow cooker to join the lonely tomatoes.

Mixing these two up creates a beautiful and ever so appetizing brownish puke colour, that just makes me want to cut in with a spoon right away.

Mmmmmm... ack.

Now, because I wanted this to taste good and not just be a healthy hodgepodge of vegetables, I decided to add some beef stock.

I had one jar left from about a year ago when I made a ginormous roast beef and canned the stock.

Because canning is still relatively new for me -- only really been doing it for the last few years -- it is always gratifying to me when I pull something out of the cupboard that has been in there for a very long time, and it is still totally sealed and relatively fresh inside.  Perhaps this feeling will fade as I become a prolific canner, as is my dream, but for now it still feels novel.

This jar gave a very pleasant pop as it was opened, and I discovered I had a very fatty stock on my hands.

Vegetarians look away now!!!

Heh heh heh.

Those chunks of white crud floating on the surface are coagulations of congealed fat deposits.  And they're what is going to make my soup absolutely delicious.  And they're also going to be responsible for bringing my soup's 'healthy' quotient down to more respectable (and tasty) levels.  

Mmmmm... tasty levels.

I'm not saying you couldn't make this without fatty beef stock.  In fact, I believe I said something earlier about being reasonably confounded at the use of beef broth in vegetable soups.

What I am saying is that this soup is going to be delicious.

And so I stirred that stock into my slow cooker, fat and all (those chunks are going to melt nicely).

Still a putrid vomit colour, complete with mysterious red and white chunks.  Appetizing.

But we're not done yet.

Those carrots and green onions we saved for later, well it is now 'later', so let's bring those out and chop them up nicely.  I mean these are going to be seen and eaten as-is, so make 'em look pretty people.

But otherwise just dump those in.

And, together with some bay leaves, and a pinch of salt and pepper, it is ready to cook all afternoon.

I will grant you that this doesn't look all that tasty here.  Kinda grey and sad.  Like it wants to jump straight out of the pot, down the drain, and not stop until it reaches its nirvana of my municipality's water treatment facility where it can be gloriously reincarnated as somebody's drinking water.  Yes... my soup is apparently Buddhist.

But I asked it to just hold on for a few hours; to place its trust in me for just a little while.

Anyway, I think it was glad it stuck around, because take a look at what it turned into seven hours later:

Definitely looks more soup-like.  Certainly looks more delicious-like.

Unfortunately this is where the photo train stopped for this excursion.  It happens sometimes when I'm starving and I get more excited about eating the food than documenting the food.  Sorry.

Suffice it to say, I served this up in some large but shallow soup bowls, accompanied with large chunks of freshly ripped artisan bread for dipping.

It was really satisfying.  

Just as I had hoped it would be when it was still just a nugget of a soup dream inside my head 8 hours earlier, on a cold February morning.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Pain Perdu au Four

For you anglophones, that's Baked French Toast.


I think everybody loves french toast.  And I'm pretty sure everybody knows how to cook it too.  I mean, it's not hard to pull off.  Although I will stipulate that it can take practice and experience to master it.  I won't say that I have mastered it.  Yet. :)  But I'm certainly no amateur. Amateur french toast is dry and rubbery, and is usually forgiven (in most cases) with copious amounts of butter, fruit, or syrup... or even all three.

Great french toast, on the other hand, is good enough on its own.  Anything you would choose to garnish or top it with, is just for added or juxtaposed flavour complexity.

There are a few tricks I've learned to make a somewhat decent french toast.  One is to only lightly beat your egg mixture.  Another is to add a fair bit of moisture in the form of milk, cream, or almond milk.  Of course, if you're trying to impress someone, and this is a once-in-a-while kind of thing, pull out all the stops and use a heavy cream in your mix.  Nothing will compare.

Of course, choosing the right kind of bread helps too.  In our household, we typically don't buy the right kind of bread for this sort of thing very often.  We tend to buy things like sprouted grain and flax breads.  Healthy breads.  <sigh>.  Needless to say, those don't work very well with french toast batter.  Or anything delicious really.  I mean don't get me wrong, for everyday purposes, I quite enjoy my thin little grain bread, but you'll have the best successes with a more traditional loaf.  I'm going to suggest a nice French or Italian loaf (white bread), even a fresh baguette is fine; just make sure that your slices are thick.

Other than that, the other techniques simply require practice:
  • getting the right mixture of egg to other components.  Usually wetter is better.  I often go heavy on the egg, because I like the extra bits of fluffy, browned, egg bits on the sides of the toast. Feel free to add some of your flavour here too, but avoid the dry ingredients.  So, some vanilla or hazelnut extract is great.  And sugar too; a tablespoon of brown sugar dissolved evenly in there is quite lovely.  Just save the cinnamon, nutmeg, or other dry ingredients to dust on after the toast has been cooked.
  • feel free to experiment with things here for something different, or more savoury.  Some things like diced chillies, or even finely minced scallions, can be extraordinary in french toast. See one of my first posts, about spicy eggy crumpets.
  • making sure you soak the bread evenly, and for the perfect amount of time (when the mix has completely saturated the bread to the middle, but before it starts to disintegrate... this is why thicker slices often work best).
  • using a pre-heated skillet, pan, or (in today's case) baking sheet, that is the perfect temperature.  Definitely on the hot side, but not too hot.  I'd say medium to moderately hot.  :)

As to the cooking itself, what I do is keep a small ramekin of vegetable oil right by the stove, and using a silicon brush, lightly coat the pan or skillet right before placing the bread.  Often I'll pour a tiny bit of batter down before placing the bread on top of it.  Just to get a little extra of the aforementioned eggy bits on the sides.

I give it a flip after only a minute or two, and then dust the freshly-cooked side with a bit of cinnamon or nutmeg or cayenne or something.  After that, and especially if you're making a large batch of them, carefully take them from the pan and place them in the warming oven (low, low heat).

Today's french toast is baked though.  It was really cold today and I wanted an excuse to turn on the oven.

Now, really, what you're supposed to do with 'baked french toast' is to make it sort of like bread-pudding style.  Sort of.  Not chopped up and stuff, but all-contained together, the bread spread out in a casserole dish and the batter just poured on overtop.

Now - you might know by now - one of my favourite things to do in the kitchen is to stubbornly refuse common practices.  I felt that there should be a way to bake french toast, AND still get the nice, browned sides and eggy extra bits and such. To cook them all up at once and not sit there for a half an hour frying them in batches.  To get the 'best of all worlds' is something I regularly aim to in cooking.  :)

I love bread pudding as much as the next person, but I like the singular neatness of conventional french toast.

Anyway, so I gave it a try.  I was wary (and rightly so) about drying them out, and so I was extra generous with the batter before baking, and a little extra with the oil brushing as well.

And then I added a small dollop of becel on top afterwards to help.

The end result was that they were a little drier than usual, but still very good.  The convenience factor alone was nice - it was really quick and easy to just get them all done in one batch like this.

Anyway, these were still nice and moist in the middle, yet crispy and golden on the outside, which is arguably the most important thing.

They looked gorgeous, but they tasted even better!

Personally I love fruit compotes and the like, but if you want to use confectioner's sugar or maple syrup, I'm not stopping you.